Ectober 2021, Day 22: Favour [FFN | AO3]
Contains canon-typical bullying. Technically follows this ficlet for Day 17 (Found Footage) but can be read as a standalone.
Valerie thought she had enough on her plate, but then Kwan asks her for a favour—and things start to make a sickening sort of sense.
“Hey, uh, Valerie? I need a favour.”
Valerie turned from her locker to raise an eyebrow at Kwan, who was hovering awkwardly just out of the main flow of students in the hallway. Star and the other A-listers were nowhere in sight, most likely already heading to cheer and football practice—somewhere Kwan should also be. “You need a favour,” Valerie repeated flatly, not sure she liked where this was going. Kwan had been happy enough to drop her like the rest of them after her fall from popularity, so even if he pretended this was an opportunity for her to get back into Paulina’s good graces and back on the A-list, Valerie wasn’t convinced she’d jump.
She didn’t need them anymore.
“I mean….” Kwan glanced around at the ever-changing crowd, but it was thinning now as people cleared out for the end of the day. “Would you do me a favour?”
“Why don’t you ask Star if it’s not something you can ask Dash?”
He flinched and looked down at his hands, which were playing with the fraying cuff of his football jacket. “This isn’t something I can ask them.”
“If you’re planning something for Star, just ask Paulina. You know she can keep a secret when it’s important.” As long as it was worth her while, anyway.
“I’m not. I—” He looked around again and stepped into her personal space before saying in a low voice that was barely audible over the buzz of the crowd, “I don’t know who I can trust with this.”
Well, she wasn’t going to shoot him down right after he said that, but she was hardly someone she thought would be one of the people he’d trust. He definitely wasn’t someone she trusted anymore. Of course, considering she hadn’t (willingly) told anyone about one of her major extracurricular activities…. “And you want to trust me with this because—?”
“You took photography and media studies last year.”
Valerie blinked. “So?”
“I need you to take a look at something for me.”
Right. Taking a look at a picture or video clip would hardly be the last of it. “And then?”
“Give me your opinion on it. Like…if it’s been edited or if you think it’s real.”
“Look, if you suspect it’s been edited and you got it from one of your friends, it’s probably been edited.” Valerie turned back to her locker to finish zipping up her backpack. “The fact that you’re questioning it at all should be your red flag. I don’t need to look at anything to tell you that.”
She yanked the backpack free as Kwan said, “No, it’s just…. I don’t know if someone could’ve edited it. Or edited it this well. On the original film, not the computer.”
Valerie sighed and glanced at her watch. She didn’t have a shift today, but she’d been hoping to get through her math homework before Phantom or another ghost showed up. As much as she wanted to see Phantom—and as grateful as she could be to any other ghost drawing him out at this point—her dad would not be impressed if her grades tanked again. “Fine, but you owe me. What is it?”
Kwan pulled one of those MiniDV tapes from his pocket and showed it to her, and Valerie rolled her eyes. “What are you expecting me to play that on?”
“I can send you a copy of what I pulled off of it,” he said, “but I didn’t know if looking at the original tape would help.”
“Not when I can’t play it on anything.”
“Sorry,” he muttered as he tucked away the tape. “I forgot.”
Right. He forgot. Whatever. She could let him get away with it this time. “Just get me a copy of the video and I’ll let you know what I think tomorrow.”
He shifted his weight and actually reached for his back pocket, where he usually kept his wallet after school hours. “Do you have time to look at it now? I can pay you if it means missing your shift.”
He was pushing his luck, wasn’t he? It wasn’t like he’d get to know her immediate response. “Paying me for my missed hours wouldn’t mean I’d still have a job tomorrow, but don’t bother.” Tempting as it was to get some extra cash, she’d be better off if he repaid her in kind. Having a future favour to call in was far better for her. “I don’t work today, but you still have football practice.” Even if she texted him with her verdict, he wouldn’t have a chance to look at his phone for a couple of hours.
“I told Coach I couldn’t make it. Family thing.”
That gave Valerie pause. Football wasn’t something Kwan took lightly, and he’d never skipped a practice when she’d been in the A-list. The fact that Dash wasn’t dragging him to practice told her Kwan had told Dash the same thing, even though it obviously wasn’t true or Kwan wouldn’t still be here talking to her.
Valerie chewed her lip, taking in Kwan’s dry skin and dark circles with a practiced eye. He’d been daydreaming in class, too. Lancer had had to call on him twice in English before he’d realized, and Star had had to hiss the answer at him because he’d been too befuddled to ask Lancer to repeat the question. Even more worryingly, he’d been one of the first players off the court in dodgeball today as opposed to one of the last ones standing. Even Tucker had outlasted him, and Valerie couldn’t remember the last time that had happened. Usually, Tucker was the one following Mikey to the bench.
Whatever this was, it was keeping Kwan up at night.
“If you want to see the original and not just the computer copy, you can come over to my house. My parents won’t be home till six.”
She was going to regret this, wasn’t she? “Fine,” Valerie said. She turned to close her locker before sweeping her arm in an exaggerated arc. “Lead on.”
Valerie opened Kwan’s window the minute he left her alone in his room, hoping the fresh air would help counteract the smell of sweat clinging to the dirty laundry he’d pushed into a pile at the foot of his bed. She was still wrinkling her nose and breathing through her mouth as she smoothed down the blankets on his bed and propped a pillow against the wall before leaning against it and settling down. She had no idea how long this would take, so she might as well be comfortable.
He returned a few minutes later with the camcorder in one hand and a glass of lemonade in the other. He handed her the lemonade before climbing onto the bed beside her and turning the camcorder on. She nodded her thanks and took a sip of the drink, almost wincing at the unexpected sourness. If this had started off as store-bought lemonade, he must’ve added a lot of extra lemon juice.
Fortunately, Kwan hadn’t seen her face, and he didn’t say anything when she reached over to put the glass on his bedside table. Instead, he waited until she’d finished before passing the camcorder to her. “I should warn you,” he said as the video started to play, “that this looks bad for us, but, um, you know how it is.”
Yeah, she knew exactly how it was. She still turned more of a blind eye to it than she should. She’d never gotten the treatment Danny or Mikey regularly did, but she’d still gotten a taste of her own medicine after getting kicked off the A-list. She’d started taking her anger out on ghosts instead—Phantom especially—and that had her stomach in knots now, considering what she’d seen….
Valerie had spent three days trying not to think about it too much, uncomfortably aware that any change in her behaviour might tip off the last person in the world she wanted to know about what she’d discovered.
She had also spent those three days keeping her eyes peeled for Phantom, but things had been quiet on the ghost front for once, and he hadn’t shown his face—meaning she was left with all her questions and no answers.
It was probably a good thing she wasn’t on the A-list anymore, as Valerie was pretty sure Paulina would’ve noticed something was off with her and called her on it on day one. Kwan was oblivious, too caught up in whatever this was to notice how distracted she herself was, and while Valerie had thought about talking to Danny about it in case he had any ideas on how to deal with this, she hadn’t.
Danny might not like Vlad Masters, but his parents were undeniably close to him, and she wasn’t really sure how to bring up the idea that not all ghosts are actually ghosts to anyone.
Anyone except another ghost, that is.
Specifically, anyone except Phantom, who might even be avoiding her if he thought she had questions about Danielle. Which she did, and which he could probably answer, given how much he’d seemed to know about her, but which definitely did not eclipse the multitude of questions she had about Plasmius, which Phantom must also know about given how he talked.
The truth was, Kwan was not the only person who hadn’t gotten enough sleep last night.
Valerie hadn’t slept at all the first night and had spent the next two tossing and turning.
She needed answers. She couldn’t get them from her usual source because her usual source wasn’t someone she could ever trust again, and she couldn’t get them from the Fentons, who wouldn’t understand because she couldn’t exactly accuse their old friend of being a ghost of all things without any proof, and—
“Cujo’s not here, is he?”
Danny’s voice sounded almost resigned as he and Dash walked into the shot, and he turned with deliberate slowness to meet Dash’s smirking face. Valerie wasn’t surprised Danny knew the ghost dog’s name—chances were good that the Fentons had also dealt with him—but she was surprised that Danny had apparently been willing to face him without any weapons. The fact that the ghost dog could turn from cute to monstrous on a dime was not exactly a little-known fact about him.
If Dash was surprised Danny knew the dog’s name, he didn’t show it. He just sneered, “I dunno. He might be looking for his chew toy.” Danny darted to Dash’s left, but Dash cut off his escape by snagging his shirt and dragging him back before hefting him up by his collar and what Valerie could only assume was the waistband of his underpants. She winced in sympathy. “Why don’t you help him look by checking out the dumpster?”
Danny’s fingers went to the front of his shirt collar, trying to pry open a space between it and his throat in what was likely a vain attempt to get some more room to breathe. “We don’t have to do this—”
Dash dropped his grip on Danny’s shirt only long enough to throw open the lid of the dumpster. “That’s where you’re wrong, Fenturd.”
Valerie grimaced as Dash heaved Danny face-first into the dumpster before slamming the lid down on him. Luckily that part wouldn’t hurt, but she could gag simply remembering the smell. It was bad even when you only breathed through your mouth—something about the decomposing Nasty Sauce, she figured; that stuff inevitably ate through the plastic garbage bags—so she didn’t want to imagine what it was like to get shoved into an enclosed space with all of that.
“I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume none of that is what you think is edited,” Valerie started, but Kwan shushed her and pointed to the screen.
The audio didn’t pick up anything except the usual sounds she could hear whenever she took out the garbage at work—namely traffic and distant chatter almost drowned out by their industrial fans—but she obligingly watched as Danny cracked the lid of the dumpster. Dash had walked off camera already, and since he didn’t suddenly reappear to slam the lid closed again, she assumed he’d gone inside. That meant it was safe for Danny to crawl out and head home for a shower.
Except he didn’t crawl out.
She’d blinked, and he was just suddenly out.
Kwan reached over to pause and rewind the video. “I know,” he said as he pressed play so she could see it again.
Valerie was incredibly familiar with the ways ghosts could move, passing through with their unnatural ease solid objects she had to avoid, and she couldn’t suppress a shudder as she saw Danny move that way, too.
“When was this?” she asked, rewinding the video herself this time.
She’d been working yesterday. “What time?”
Kwan pointed to the time stamp in the corner, and a pit settled in Valerie’s stomach, churning up entirely too many feelings of dread.
She’d been working in the back at that point. She’d been on the fryer. She’d been wearing her watch, the watch that was supposed to alert her whenever a ghost came in range, and ten feet away—albeit through the wall—was certainly within range.
Maybe it hadn’t been working? That could be why things had seemed quiet recently. Maybe she’d broken it somehow and hadn’t noticed. Maybe—and while this was a much less pleasant possibility, she still had to consider it—Mr. Masters was onto her and had purposely disabled it. A ghost could have helped Danny pull off that feat, pulling him out of the dumpster and leaving behind all its muck.
Except a ghost, if they would even stop to help the son of the town’s most infamous ghost hunters, could have just grabbed Danny and dragged him out. At best, he should’ve stumbled as his feet hit the pavement and he regained tangibility. Instead, he’d rolled out, something that would’ve made it substantially more difficult for a ghost to keep a hand on him, which would’ve been necessary for a ghost to share their intangibility.
There was another possibility.
Valerie swallowed. “This might not be edited, or at least not filmed over whatever you had before. Look at how far the lid falls here. Unless someone got some fishing line and rigged something up, I think Danny was the one to move it. No one else would’ve been able to clear the shot.”
Kwan sucked in a breath, and the blanket between them bunched up as he grabbed a fistful of it. “You think it’s real? I thought maybe Foley….”
“Danny might be overshadowed,” she said, but she didn’t believe her own words. Three days ago, she would’ve been convinced that was it, and she’d have gone straight to the Fentons with her suspicions.
But that was three days ago, not now.
Kwan let out a shaky laugh. “Oh, yeah, that would explain it. Why didn’t I think of that?”
Valerie doubted that Kwan, like most of the student body at Casper High, knew how often Danny’s parents’ inventions and prototypes misfired or straight up exploded. She doubted he knew how often Danny and Jazz had to painstakingly soap the sticky ecto-goo off themselves. She doubted he knew they had a built-in alarm system specifically designed to detect and attack ghosts. Frankly, she doubted he could name very many of their weapons—thermos, ecto-guns, and ghost shield aside.
Still, Kwan wasn’t likely to know how difficult it would be for a ghost to overshadow Danny. An overshadowing ghost would fool some ecto-tech but certainly not all of it. For a random ghost to prey upon Danny like that, they’d have to have some knowledge of the FentonWorks weaponry to know what they needed to avoid, and they’d have to have considerable knowledge of Danny himself to fool his friends and his family.
Kwan also didn’t know what she had only recently learned: that some ghosts were human, too, at least in all the ways that mattered.
It made her stomach twist to even consider the possibility, but she had to—especially since she knew Mr. Masters was an old friend of the Fentons. She might not know the details, but she knew that Mr. Masters was distinctly less keen on Danny’s dad than his mom, and, well, she’d met the Fentons. She’d been in their house and their lab. For all their talk of safety, they could be rather lax in that department even when they weren’t excited about something.
“I’d lay off Danny till you know for sure,” she said as she rewound the video again. It wasn’t much, but it might buy him a bit of peace, at least until everything went sideways.
“Yeah, I’ll talk to Dash.”
Valerie nodded absently, her eyes still on the tiny screen.
This was real.
She wished it weren’t real.
“If you give me a copy of this, I’ll check it out in more detail later.” She watched as Danny walked out of the shot before hitting the stop button and passing the camcorder back to Kwan. His relief was written in his face and the way his shoulders had finally relaxed, but she felt none of that relief herself.
She didn’t know if the answer was as simple as she was pretending. In fact, she highly doubted it, and she wasn’t keen on what she suspected was the truth.
“For sure,” Kwan said, smiling widely at her. “Thanks. I really owe you for this. You didn’t have to help me.”
No, she hadn’t needed to, but if she hadn’t done him this favour, she wouldn’t have discovered what very well might be a missing piece to her own conundrum.
Valerie might not know Danielle’s story, and maybe she was wrong about Mr. Masters’ past, but hadn’t she overheard Danny, Sam, and Tucker talking about an accident? More than once? And then there were all the weird things that had happened back at the start of grade nine. Danny was still banned from handling glassware in chemistry, even though she hadn’t seen him drop something less breakable in ages.
It might be a mere coincidence.
It might simply be correlation, not causation.
It might also be context, and that worried her the most.
“No problem,” Valerie whispered, already wondering who she should try to talk to first, Danny or Phantom—and if it would even matter.
She suspected it wouldn’t.
Danny would be the easiest one to find, but if she could talk to Phantom first and try to catch him in a verbal trap before she confronted Danny—
That was still the safest option, wasn’t it?
In case she was wrong.
In case Danny Fenton wasn’t Danny Phantom like Vlad Masters was Vlad Plasmius.
Valerie swallowed, fixed a smile on her face, and crawled off the bed as she said, “I’ll look at it after I’m done Falluca’s assignment, okay?”
Kwan didn’t seem to notice her trepidation. “You’ll text me?”
She had no plans to tell him anything concrete until after she talked to Phantom—she didn’t even know what she’d say to Kwan if it turned out she was right—but she nodded and tried to convince herself this was for the best.
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